Is there hope for London?
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
I am attending an international conference in Paris. Currently I am in a session on "Global Corporations and the future of Cities". The global corporations are represented by Siemens and Euro Disney. The Cities are represented by Paris and London. The voice of Paris is Régis Baudoin, CEO of the Paris Regional Economic Development Agency. He is a bureaucrat, of course, but seems a reasonable chap. The voice of London is David Lunts, formerly an employee of the intellectual giant who is our Deputy Prime Minister. He now glories in the splendid title of London's "Director of Policy and Partnerships."
Lunts' is a disturbing voice. Not just because of his whiney tone (he calls his boss "the Mare") but in his clear lack of understanding of market forces. He has just claimed that the "stealth tax" involved in forcing developers to provide social housing as a price for getting planning permission "works well" and "does not interfere" with increased provision of housing. A mafia Don would no doubt similarly argue that extorting protection money does not interfere with the small businesses of his "customers." How can anyone not understand that imposing costs tips marginal projects over into unviability and increases unit prices on those developments which do "work?"
In fact, in a private meeting earlier today, I heard real estate professionals working in London say that many housing schemes are rendered unviable by this
extortion tax. They also said that developers now often seek planning permissions for commercial uses on sites where housing would otherwise have been (in the real estate industry's jargon) the "highest and best use". A man whose whole career has been in government, is of course unaware of such realities, not least because business well-understands the need to suck up to have good relations with the monopolists who exercise planning powers and are very unlikely ever to tell them the truth to their faces.
Given the appalling shortage of affordable housing in London, caused by government interference in the market through tight planning controls, the strict maintenance of the "Green Belt", and the simultaneous failure to invest over decades in upgrading infrastructure so that London can support more sustainable high-density development, this seems to me "brass neck" of Blair-like proportions.
Which city is more beautiful? London or Paris? Which City is more densely-developed? As a patriotic Englishman who loves his capital city, I regret to have to answer "Paris" to both questions.
I did enjoy his comment though on the need to "upskill" London's workers who will not "sell their physical strength" but rather their "professional skills" in future. I wonder how far he and his boss would have to be "upskilled" before they could make a useful contribution.
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